Every traveler has at some point checked into a hotel and been unpleasantly surprised. A room directly across from the ice machine and a view of the dumpster, an "ocean view" that requires leaning over a balcony, pools closed for renovations during a heat wave; disappointments can be myriad. The question isn't whether or not setbacks will happen – they will – but how to deal with them when they do. It's important to address a bad hotel room before it ruins your next business trip or vacation, and handling such situations delicately is sometimes the only way to salvage a trip.
Proactive Requests Get More Attention
Room categories are broad assignments and rooms within them have a range of individual issues. This is particularly true of properties with odd shapes or long histories. To ensure the best view or the most spacious room, call ahead and ask to speak to the "Rooms Division Manager." He or she may be able to block a specific room or at least include your preferences in the reservation.
More specific requests are better. Consider asking to have a snack or some flowers waiting in your room upon arrival. This requires that the hotel know where to deliver the items, and experienced travelers claim it improves their chances of receiving a complimentary upgrade. Demonstrating that you're in the know gives staff the incentive to treat you better – especially given the importance of Yelp reviews.
Negotiate a Better Room on Arrival
If you show up and your assigned room still isn't satisfactory, the standard approach is to call the front desk and ask for help finding an alternative. Explain exactly what you prefer, such as a low floor or a different wing, because the agent who checked you in probably tried his best already. If the engineering or housekeeping departments need time to fix a maintenance issue, ask for access to the hotel's VIP lounge while you wait.
Ask about an upgrade when no alternative rooms are available. The hotel wants to resolve any service failures as early as possible. If a suite is available, they would rather offer it at a discount to someone who is already at the property than gamble on a last-minute booking.
Reach out to the Manager or Social Media
A complimentary upgrade is unlikely in most cases and will almost certainly require speaking to the hotel manager. Be calm and reasonable when explaining the problem. This is an opportunity for the hotel to learn how it can address your situation before later guests bring the same complaint. Besides a different room, you might ask for other compensation, such as a complimentary breakfast, or discounted spa services.
The Twitter or Facebook team for a large brand (Marriott is increasingly famous for this) offers another potential point of contact and may be empowered to contact the manager on your behalf. A simple message about one or two specific issues and an accompanying photograph is easy to understand. Despite the bad publicity, providing the social media team with a chance to publicly resolve your issue looks pretty good. Just be absolutely sure to publicly thank them. Don't troll people who work in the service industry.
Keep Your Options Open
When the hotel seems to have no interest in responding to a complaint, you'll have to take matters into your own hands. It helps if you've booked at a refundable rate and arrive to survey the property before the cancellation deadline. If you're in a place – probably a developing country – where you think standards might vary, pick a hotel near a competitor so it will be convenient to switch properties and show up early. You might even make a second reservation.
If it's not possible to cancel, pay for the first night – whether using points or cash – and check out early. Even a refundable reservation will have your payment information on file, so obtain a cancellation number or receipt. It may be possible to get a refund by later contacting the property or the corporate office, but the longer you stick around, the more difficult it will be to argue that conditions were unacceptable. And don't forget to take pictures. Once you've done that, get outside and enjoy wherever you are. There is always a good reason to stay out late and get up early.